New Delhi: As India braces to bear the economic burden of the Covid-19 pandemic, the armed forces have put all non-operational and non-training expenditure on hold.
In a video conference Friday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the forces’ operational preparedness as well as measures to fight Covid-19 with the top commanders of the three services.
The finance ministry had earlier put curbs on the expenses of many ministries for the first quarter of 2020-21, as the government looks ahead to the fallout of Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown on revenues.
Singh asked the forces to ensure operational preparedness, because the adversary should not be allowed to exploit the current situation.
“He also directed the forces to initiate measures to spend the financial resources, avoiding wastage in view of the economic burden imposed by Covid-19,” a statement released by the ministry said.
Stressing on the requirement of “jointness” of the armed forces, Singh asked the commanders to identify and prioritise tasks that could be accomplished quickly and assist in the revival of the economy after the lockdown is lifted, according to the statement.
Domestic defence payments on priority
Sources told ThePrint that the focus of the defence minister’s directive was to cap non-operational and non-training expenditure, adding that acquisition processes will not be affected, but payments could be delayed or staggered.
The sources added that paying the domestic defence industry will be the first priority.
“In the wake of the coronavirus, there have been 15-20 per cent expenses curbs on many ministries, and defence is not excluded. Hence, expenses have to be prioritised,” a senior armed forces officer who did not wish to be identified told ThePrint.
The officer explained that the curbs will not affect the operational or training capabilities. “But yes, there are many other expenses, like ceremonial (that will be curtailed). Keeping in mind the expenditure cut in the first quarter, one will have to manipulate the funds accordingly, so that priority expenditure is taken care of,” he said.
Another officer told ThePrint that all committed liabilities will be taken care of, but payments could be staggered.
“If a payment has to be done in May, it could be done in September. However, the priority is payment to domestic defence players, because they need to be protected,” this officer said.
Sources also denied that the acquisition process would be hit long term, saying that such processes are not about one or two quarters.
During the video conference, the commanders also apprised Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of various measures put in place to prevent the infection from spreading among the forces, and the assistance extended to the local civilian administration.
The minister appreciated the role of the armed forces in extending assistance to the civilian administration and boosting India’s preparedness to fight Covid-19.
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